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When the well runs dry

A. Ibrahim
They can see the water source and they even pay their water bills, but residents of Nyala are thirsty.
14.03.2016  |  Nyala, Sudan
A well near Nyala, Sudan, July 2015. (photo: The Niles | Abdelrahman Ibrahim)
A well near Nyala, Sudan, July 2015. (photo: The Niles | Abdelrahman Ibrahim)

Decades of conflict have left vital infrastructure in short supply and residents of Nyala, South Darfur State, frequently in search of water. Every year the crisis peaks during the four-month-long summer – the northern districts are hit hardest.

Most of Nyala’s houses lack water mains, a fact the former Governor of South Darfur Adam Mahmoud Jar El-Nabi blames on absent pipes. “The network was subject to some renovation and the first phase related to street pipes was completed. However, the second phase of running pipes inside the houses has yet to be completed,” he said during a press conference this past June.

Water carried on carriages and tankers tour Nyala neighbourhoods to sell water barrels to the inhabitants of those areas who don’t have access to a public water supply. The price of a barrel of water costs SDG 25 (about US$ 4). Most Nyala city residents do not receive a monthly salary and their incomes vary from one month to the next, making this a steep sum to pay.

Even for employees whose monthly incomes range between SDG 700 and 900 (nearly US$ 116 and 150), it is challenging to cover the monthly water costs of large families – somewhere between US$ 124 and 240 per month. Salaried family members often split the bill. “Drinking water has become pricier than cooking gas,” said Mohammed Abdallah, from Al-Matar District.

And even those families living in neighbourhoods with public water supply pipes, regular water shortages have prompted them to dig wells and use the autumn water streams. A halt in the water doesn’t stop the water bill from coming.

The crisis has come about for many reasons – the armed conflict in the region being a major factor. As a result, state finances have been pumped into security, leading to the neglect of much-needed infrastructure.

“The problem of water in Nyala is huge and cannot be fully resolved since it is a problem that has roots in previous governments,” said former Governor Jar El-Nabi. Even the few lucky people who have access to water pipes in their homes are suffering. Ahmed Saeed, who lives in the Al-Sad Al-Aaly District said he has water pipes in his house, but “since summer, water has been supplied only once. The water supply authority still collects water charges every month.”

Water supply halts during the four summer months due to the lack of ground water in the city, according to Nyala’s former Commissioner, Surur Ahmed Abdallah. “The city depends on the water from Burley Valley whose water starts to deplete in the beginning of January of each year,” he said.


Hope in a basin

The former commissioner added that the local government, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water Resources and the Environment, had searched for new water sources in the locality but failed to locate any alternatives. “The solution will only come through the autumn rainfall or the implementation of the Baggara Basin project,” Abdallah explained, referring to water supply.

The Baggara Basin is located in the Gereida area, about 80 kilometres to the south of Nyala. Planning for the project started in the 1960s but was never implemented. In 2008, a number of contracts were drawn up with a Chinese company to construct the basin in return for oil. However, with South Sudan’s independence in 2011 and abandonment of the former deal on oil guarantees, the Chinese company gave up and the project was suspended.

New contracts were signed with Egyptian, United Arab Emirates and Sudanese contractors to implement the project in 2014 and it was anticipated that the project would be completed by the end of 2016. Urban Planning Minister in South Darfur State El-Tayyeb Hamad Abu Rida said all formalities were completed and the companies involved in the implementation of the project were issued with the required guarantees.

If the minster’s expectations are realised, Nyala will be able to cover about 40 percent of its water needs. The remaining 60 percent will likely be covered by the Rimaliyeh Dam, north of the city, and Bulbul Dam, southeast of Nyala. These two dams have since stopped working due to a lack of funding. The overall cost of the Baggara Basin project and the two dams amounts to SDG 100 million (nearly US$ 17 million), according to a number of Sudanese press websites.

Seven years of thirst

While they wait on these projects, locals continue their daily struggle for water. Nyala resident Hawa Abdelrahman said she uses the autumn rain water for drinking and cooking, unaware of the dangers it may pose to her health.

Many others continue to pay their monthly water bill without getting any water. Yagoub Adam who lives in the Al-Wahda District, south of Nyala, said he has been thirsty on and off for seven years even though he lives within a quarter of a kilometre of the water source.

Adam paid his SDG 25 (US$ 4) monthly water bill without having a water mains connection. He finally decided to stop paying, but the incurred charges have accumulated to SDG 300 (US$ 49).

“The water supply authority discussed the issue with us and convinced us that water would be supplied soon. Thus, we paid the accumulated charges to no avail,” Adam said. “We have seen no water and we are still thirsty.”

This article is part of:
Water: A fool won’t even find water in the Nile!
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